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Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 17 November 2018

Explained: The cost and procedure for repatriating a body from the UAE

Cost to send the body of a loved one home can reach as much as Dh35,000

Staff from Middle East Assistance who help grieving families with the repatriation process when a loved one dies.
Staff from Middle East Assistance who help grieving families with the repatriation process when a loved one dies.

Losing a loved one is incredibly traumatic, but the experience is all the more harrowing for families trying to return a relative to their home country.

A rise in immigration worldwide means repatriation is increasingly carried out and it can be a long and, in many cases, expensive process - regardless of the country of origin.

The average cost of repatriating a body from Dubai to the UK ranges between Dh20,000 and Dh30,000, a repatriation expert says. It largely depends on the destination – the average cost to Asia is Dh15,000, while Africa can be up to Dh35,000.

The process can take up to two weeks if the person dies outside of a hospital.

“You need to get a forensic report if someone dies outside a hospital in Dubai,” said Vivian Albertyn, whose company Middle East Assistance provides funeral services in Dubai.

“Depending on the cause of death you might need an autopsy and even a toxicology report. Once you get the forensics report you have to take it to the police who issue another certificate. It doesn’t matter if you die of cancer or in a car accident, you need to have this.”

The sensitivity and importance of the repatriation process was highlighted by The National, last week, when the there was a mix-up over two Indian men’s bodies, and one was sent to the wrong family.

Mr Albertyn said that waiting for the forensics report can create significant delays.

“The cause of death in the forensics report is only in Arabic, which means that in some cases you have to get it legally translated depending on which country you are returning the body to.

“Once you get the forensics report you have to take it to the Ministry of Health, which issues a death certificate.”

As is the case in many countries, the next step for the bereaved family is to contact an embassy or consulate to get the deceased’s passport cancelled. A letter stating there is no objection to the deceased being transported back to their own country should then be issued.

When this letter has been obtained, the family or their representative has to return to Dubai Police. They will then issue another series of letters saying the body can be embalmed and the remains can be released.

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Mr Albertyn said that this process could take up to three days. Once all this has been completed, arrangements can be made with an airline for the body to be returned home.

If the body is not repatriated, for reasons including cost, the remains will then be sent to Sharjah crematorium, which can also be a lengthy process.

The delay in having a body released causes further hardships for families already in the throes of an ordeal.

Glen Baxter, of All Ireland Repatriation, said cultural differences could create unforeseen issues for grieving families.

“A lot of countries don’t have the wake scenario like we do in Ireland,” Mr Baxter said.

It is tradition in Ireland for families to invite friends and neighbours to visit the deceased’s home and pay their final respects before burial.

During these three days, the body is on display in an open casket. This becomes a difficulty, Mr Baxter said, when it could take up to two weeks for a body to be repatriated from Dubai.

“Embalming for us is very much a cosmetic issue to make sure it is possible for the deceased to be able to be put on display in their family’s home,” he said.

“That is not always possible when the deceased passed away two weeks ago. It is hard having to explain to families why they cannot have an open coffin during the wake ­ceremony.”

Mr Baxter said that the average cost of having a body repatriated to Ireland is between 6,000 and 8,000 (Dh25,600 to Dh34,100).

“The funeral can also be a costly experience without having the added pressure of having to pay to repatriate the deceased,” he said.

“Death abroad can be an added burden to an already suffering family. It is a big challenge for people to keep the cost down.”

The International Air Transport Association rules are specific on what is required before a body can be flown in a plane. The body must be contained in a hermetically sealed lead or zinc inner coffin placed inside a wooden one.

Death, embalming, police and embassy certificates are all required, as is the cancelled passport, as well as details of the person, if any, who will accompany the body home.

The costs do not end there, because it is common for family members to then have to fly to Dubai and take care of any outstanding business that the deceased might have.

This includes closing bank accounts, insurance payouts and selling cars or property.